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BRADFORD ON WILLIS-BROWNE
Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2001 20:04:08 +0000
From: "R. W. Bradford" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: LPUS-MISC@dehnbase.org (LP business - miscellaneous discussion)
Timeline of the Willis-Browne Conspiracy
updated and corrected: August 20, 2001
(Updated and corrected material is preceded by asterisks ****. Thanks to
Jim Lark, Steve Dasbach and Jon Kalb for identifying three minor errors in
the original version.)
Most libertarians are by now aware that in 1995 and 1996, the Harry Browne
for President campaign secretly conspired with the Libertarian Party’s
national director Perry Willis to capture the party’s presidential
nomination by violating the party’s rules against conflict of interest.
Untangling the complexities of a conspiracy is always a convoluted task, for
the very simple reason that conspiracies are executed in secret. The task
becomes even more difficult when, as in the case of the Willis-Browne
conspiracy, it is executed over a long period of time and its participants
refuse to provide details even after the conspiracy is proven.
To help readers understand the Willis-Browne conspiracy, we have prepared
the following timeline listing all significant events in what remains a
developing story. In preparation of this timeline, we have exhaustively
researched the minutes of dozens of the LP National Committee and its
Executive Committee, past news articles in the public press, and conducted
dozens of interviews with those involved.
In a few cases, minor discrepancies occurred between people’s recollections
and the public records. In these cases, we include the most credible
account. These discrepancies all occurred in peripheral aspects of the case.
The quoted material comes either from the minutes of the LP’s national
committee or executive committee or interviews with the individuals
involved, and every fact we report has support either from public records or
from interviews we conducted. In order to keep the timeline as concise and
readable as possible, we have not burdened the text with detailed source
We are especially grateful to LP Chair James Lark, LP National Director
Steve Dasbach, and former LP Secretary John Famularo, who each consented to
be interviewed several times and reviewed early drafts of the timeline to
provide factual corrections and additional information.
ï the editors of
August 1994: Harry Browne announces that he will seek the 1996 Libertarian
Party presidential nomination.
Spring 1995: LP National Chair Steve Dasbach discovers that LP National
Director Perry Willis and Communications Director Bill Winter have been
working for the Browne campaign, on a contract basis. They have been
violating two provisions of the Party’s Policy Manual:
Article 1, Section 2 (General Policy on Conflict of Interest): It
shall be the affirmative responsibility of each . . . Party
officer or employee to disclose to the NatCom [National Committee]
. . . if such person’s own economic or other interests might
conflict with the interests of the Party. . . . Any such
disclosure shall be made at the earliest opportune moment, prior
to the discharge of such duties and clearly set forth the details
of the conflict of interest.
Willis and Winter had violated this rule because, in
accepting payment for their work on behalf of Browne,
they were in a situation in which their own economic
interest might conflict with the interest of the Party ï
that the nomination process be fair to all aspirants and
to have the appearance of fairness to all aspirants ï
and they did not inform the Libertarian National
Committee (LNC) about the conflict, let alone inform it
at the ‘earliest opportune moment.’
Article IV, Section 3 (Headquarters: Conflict of Interest):
Neither the National Director nor any other employee of the Party
shall: ‘Endorse, support, contribute any money, or use his or her
title or position to aid any candidate in any LP primary, or in
any campaign for office, or nomination, within the National LP or
any State LP . . . [or] . . . permit National Headquarters to be
used by anyone at any time to aid any candidate in any LP primary,
or in any campaign for office, or nomination, with the National LP
or any State LP.
Willis and Winter had violated this rule because working
on behalf of a candidate seeking the party’s nomination
constituted support for that candidate.
Realizing that Willis and Winter had violated the requirement that anyone
who might have an economic conflict of interest must report it to the
National Committee, Chairman Dasbach requests ‘that they do not do any
further work until the matter could be presented to the LNC.’ He tells them
that the rule prohibiting ‘support’ of a candidate for nomination did not
apply, because ‘it was his interpretation of the policy manual that if Mr.
Willis or Mr. Winter were to provide volunteer services it would be
considered support, but as long as they are being paid it does not
****June 1995: Jesse Markowitz, an LNC alternate, and Dean Ahmad, a former
LNC member, suggest to Dasbach that Willis and Winter are not only doing
work on behalf of Browne but also may using the computers at LP headquarters
to do the work. Dasbach discovers that Willis and Winter are indeed using
LP equipment and instructs them not to do so in the future. He agrees that
their work is a violation of the LP’s conflict of interest rules. He
requests that Willis do no further work, but tells Winter he could continue,
on the grounds that the work Winter was doing was trivial in nature.
August 26¡27, 1995: At a regularly scheduled meeting of the National
Committee, longtime LP activist and LNC member Don Ernsberger inquires about
the ‘use of headquarters personnel and resources’ on behalf of an individual
(Browne) seeking the party’s presidential nomination. Dasbach explains that
when he learned about Willis’ and Winters’ work on behalf of Browne he had
asked them to do no further work for Browne until informing the LNC, and
that when he learned from Markowitz that they had been using LP equipment,
he reprimanded them. Willis says he done no work for Browne after Dasbach’s
spring meeting with him, that he ‘would inform the executive committee
before doing any more campaign work.’ The LNC takes no formal action.
December 9¡10, 1995: At the next LNC meeting, Hugh Butler, the party’s
treasurer, introduces a resolution to change the conflict of interest policy
to authorize work on behalf of aspirants to party nominations provided that
‘Both the work and income amounts are disclosed to the Chair . . . [and] . .
. employees agree to terminate specific work when requested by the Chair.’
The resolution also specifies that the ‘National Director was not authorized
to accept outside work’ and requires that the Chair ‘report all such
activities to the LNC.’
According to the minutes of the meeting, Willis ‘strongly objected to this
resolution because what should be of issue is the application of the
resources of the Party and whether or not those are misappropriated.’ He
added that he ‘could determine on an individual basis whether a specific
request from . . . the Browne campaign would or would not violate his
fiduciary responsibility to the party.’ He said further ‘that if he could
not do any outside work he would resign his position.’
After considerable discussion, Butler ‘restated’ his motion:
Whereas, the LNC is aware that LP headquarters employees have
accepted outside consulting work, and, in as much as the LNC
deplores conflicts of interest within the Party,
Therefore be it resolved that employees of the LNC may accept
outside consulting work so long as:
1. Both the amount of work and the income from it shall be
approved by the chair.
2. Employees agree to terminate improper work when requested by
3. The Chair will report the facts to the LNC.
The motion passed on a voice vote.
At this point, it has become impossible for Willis to do further work on
behalf of Browne without quitting his paid position with the party (as he
had threatened to do) or disobeying the explicit terms of his contract with
December 1995 ¡ July 1996: Browne continues to seek the party’s nomination,
facing tepid opposition from Rick Tompkins and Irwin Schiff. Rumors that
Willis and Winter are continuing to work for Browne still circulate among
members of the LNC and high-level party activists. In fact, though no one
outside the Browne campaign knows it, Willis continues to work for Browne.
The Browne campaign launders the money it pays him by writing checks to a
company controlled by Jack Dean, who worked for the campaign, which makes
corresponding payments to Willis, concealed from the watchful eyes of the
LNC or the Federal Election Commission, a body that makes public the date,
purpose and recipient of all expenditures reported to it by political
July 6, 1996: At the party’s convention in Washington, D.C., Browne easily
wins the presidential nomination.
July ¡ November 1996: With the Browne campaign in full swing, rumors of
Willis’ work on behalf of Browne are heard less often.
November 6, 1996: Browne finishes fifth in the popular vote for president,
winning 0.50% of the vote (485,120 votes, to be exact).
1997¡1999: Rumors of conflict of interest among headquarters staffers and
collusion between the Browne campaign and LP headquarters continue.
April 5¡6, 1997: The LNC amends the party’s Policy Manual to prohibit
explicitly any party employees from endorsing, supporting, contributing
money to, or working as a volunteer, employee or contractor on behalf of
‘any candidate for public office prior to the nomination.’
September 1997: Perry Willis resigns as National Director. He is entitled to
collect severance pay equal to six months’ salary, some $40,000.
March 1998: Willis’ $6,667 monthly severance pay ends, and he accepts a
position as manager of Browne’s 2000 presidential campaign.
****July 1998: At the party’s national convention, there is an especially
bitter campaign for the office of Chair, with Browne campaigning vigorously
for David Bergland, his campaign chair and the husband of his campaign
manager. Bergland is opposed by Gene Cisewski, who has been advised by a
campaign supporter that there is available very damaging ï even scandalous ï
information about corruption within the Browne camp. The supporter is John
Famularo, who has discovered through the ordinary course of computer
maintenance, that Willis had secretly violated the LP's explicit conflict of
interest rules by working for the Browne campaign, and that Browne had
laundered payments for his services through a third party, as well as other
evidence of collusion between Browne and the staff of the national office.
Cisewski tells Famularo that he does not want to run a "dirty" campaign, and
does not want to know about such evidence has Browne possesses.
Nevertheless, dharges of conflict of interest and collusion ripple through
the convention. Bergland is elected chair and Steve Dasbach, the retiring
chair, gets Willis’ old job of National Chair.
March 9, 2000: In a series of widely circulated e-mail broadsides, longtime
party activist Jacob Hornberger accuses the Browne campaign and the LP
headquarters staff of having an improper relationship characterized by
‘unethical interlocking relationships, conflicts of interest, improper
payments to LP staff members, and îindependent consultants’ to the LP
national office.’ Browne and his staff respond with a series of e-mails
charging Hornberger with everything from ‘mean-spiritedness’ to ‘slander’ to
being a ‘sanctimonious self-appointed Inquisitor General.’
April 21, 2000: Willis e-mails the Browne campaign’s supporters an alarming
announcement that the campaign is suspending operations because fundraising
has fallen off as a result of the charges made by Hornberger. The campaign
unsuspends operations a few days later.
May 2000: Liberty publishes a 16-page independent investigation of charges
made against the Browne campaign. On the question of conflict of interest,
investigator Peter Gillen finds the accusations to be ‘understandable,’ in
light of the substantial amount of circumstantial evidence. But lacking
evidence to the contrary, he accepts at face value the false statements of
Willis and others within the Browne campaign, and concludes his report
indecisively. In reviews of the 1996 campaign, the 2000 campaign, and
Project Archimedes (an LP recruitment campaign managed by Willis),
investigators R. W. Bradford and Martin Solomon find that Willis’ recruiting
for the LP and the Browne campaigns had systematically and substantially
misrepresented the facts to the members, supporters and to the LNC, but that
their actions had fallen short of the legal definition of fraud.
July 2, 2000: Browne wins the LP’s presidential nomination for an
unprecedented second time.
November 7, 2000: Browne finishes fifth in the popular vote, his share of
the vote down 26% to 386,064.
April 21, 2001: At a regularly scheduled meeting of the LNC, former
Secretary John Famularo distributes copies of an invoice from Perry Willis
demanding payment from Jack Dean’s company for services rendered to the
April 25, 2001: LP Chair Jim Lark e-mails Willis asking him to ‘provide
information in response to the information provided by Mr. Famularo.’ He
warns Willis that ‘failure to provide such information [will] be regarded as
a very serious matter.’
April 28, 2001: Having heard nothing from the LNC, Famularo sends copies of
the documents to several individuals, including the editor of Liberty.
May 11, 2001: After consulting with Browne, Willis issues a 20-page
statement, admitting that he conspired with the Browne campaign to work for
it secretly, after becoming explicitly aware that doing so was a violation
of his contract with the LP and his promise to cease doing such work. He
also admits to lying about the matter for nearly five years, saying that he
did so because unless he worked for both the Browne campaign and the LP, the
libertarian movement would have collapsed.
May 13, 2001: In the wake of a very hostile initial reaction from those
reading Willis’ memo, Browne sends an e-mail to supporters. He ‘suggests’
that they wait before speaking ‘in order to give as much thought to their
reaction as Perry gave to his statement before he released it,’ adding that
Perry spent ‘several days on his statement’ and that ‘I went over it with
him.’ He warns that it would ‘be prudent for you to think over the
consequences of your statements before releasing them.’ He adds that he
himself ‘will release a statement in a few days, after emotions have relaxed
May 15, 2001: Browne answers a question posed to him by e-mail the day
before by former LP Chair Mary Gingell, who asked whether he concurred ‘with
Perry’s opinion that violating the LNC conflict of interest rules in 1996 in
order to help the Browne for President campaign is justifiable.’ Browne
replied that he would ‘be issuing a statement in the next couple of days. .
. In the meantime, you should know that I was aware of Perry’s actions and
agreed to them.’
May 17, 2001: Liberty publishes the first report of the evidence of the
Willis-Browne conspiracy, detailing the events that led to the Willis’
confession and reaction to it.
May 23, 2001: The executive committee of the LNC meets. Joe Dehn proposes a
resolution directing the party’s employees ‘to not enter into any business
relationships, including but not limited to rentals of the LP mailing list
or advertising in LP News, with Browne or Willis or any entity of which
either of them is an officer, director, or employee, without prior approval
of the Executive Committee.’ Dehn reveals the contents of Browne’s e-mail
confessing to his having been ‘aware of Perry’s actions’ and having ‘agreed
to them.’ Party Chair Lark suggests that perhaps ‘Perry’s actions’ that
Browne ‘was aware of’ and ‘agreed to’ were some actions other than those
Gingell had asked him about, though he considers such interpretations to be
‘less likely.’ The resolution is passed. The committee also discusses the
possibility that Jack Dean’s firm (which had also done work under contract
for the party) had secretly subcontracted the work to Willis, who was a
party employee at the time.
May 30, 2001: The executive committee holds a special meeting at the urging
of Vice Chair Dan Fylstra, who proposes that the previous resolution be
amended to reflect the hypothesis that ‘Perry’s actions’ of which Browne
‘was aware of and ‘agreed to might be some actions other than those
Gingell had asked him about. By a 3¡2 vote, the committee passes a
resolution recognizing ‘that while Harry Browne was the head of the
campaign, it is presently unclear to what extent he or others were involved
in Willis’ actions or decisions, requesting ‘that Harry Browne provide a
public statement to the LNC to clarify the circumstances surrounding Willis’
actions,’ recommending that the LNC censure Perry Willis for his
acknowledged violation of LNC policy in 1995¡96 in working for the Browne
campaign while being employed by the LNC.
June 10, 2001: Lark sends e-mail messages to Browne, his campaign
manager-treasurer Sharon Ayres, and campaign co-chair David Bergland, asking
them whether they knew about Willis’ fraud and when they knew it. He also
e-mails John Famularo, asking him to turn over whatever
additional evidence Famularo has.
June 12, 2001: Lark e-mails Michael Cloud, Browne’s projects manager, asking
him whether he know about Willis’ fraud and when he knew it. The message
bounces back; Cloud has apparently changed his e-mail address.
June 14, 2001: Liberty publishes its second report on the Willis-Browne
June 15, 2001: Browne replies by e-mail to Lark’s query, apologizing for not
responding sooner, and indicating that Lark is welcome to call him.
***June 19, 2001: Most LP members begin to hear of the Browne-Willis
conspiracy for the first time when they receive the July LP News, published
today. According to Dasbach, the article is written by Bill Winter, who was
involved in the early part of the story (he had done work for the Browne
campaign along with Willis, until Dasbach advised him that it violated the
party’s conflict of interest rules). It was also reviewed by both National
Director Dasbach and Chairman Lark. Dasbach later recalls that he ‘probably’
suggested a couple of changes, and that Lark ‘circulated the draft article
among several other LNC members at the June 16¡17 Strategic Planning meeting
[and] suggested some changes to Mr. Winter regarding the article, all of
which were made.’
Lark and Winter have disagree about where the article should appear in the
LP News. Winter wanted it to appear on page 4, a unprominent position in the
paper. Lark thought the story to be sufficiently important that it should
appear on page 1. Winter said that he'd do that if Lark insisted but that he
would consider it to be, as Lark said, ‘a vote of no confidence with
respect to his professional judgment,’ though Winter did not, in fact,
threaten to resign. In the end, Winter and Lark compromised: The story was
moved to a more visible position on page 3 of the paper, and a small box
alerting readers to the story was added to page 1.
June 20, 2001: Browne and Lark speak on the telephone. The conversation,
according to Lark, is ‘cordial and polite.’ Brown tells Lark that he ‘will
not cooperate with the investigation.’ He also apologizes for making Lark’s
Lark also e-mails Willis asking him to make available to the LNC the 2000
Browne for President campaign records as well as records of Optopia, Willis’
private company that did work on behalf of Browne on a contract basis.
June 26, 2001: Lark sends another e-mail query to Michael Cloud. It also
July 11, 2001: It is now a month since Lark e-mailed Browne’s top staffers ï
Ayres, Bergland, and Dean ï and none have responded in any way, so Lark sent
each another e-mail, repeating his request for information and asking each
at least to acknowledge that he has received the message.
July 12, 2001: Bergland e-mails back, tersely saying ‘Message received.’
July 14, 2001: Lark encounters Michael Cloud at the Texas LP convention and
hands him a copy of his request for information about what Cloud knew about
the Browne-Willis conspiracy and when he knew it.
July 14, 2001: A reliable source in a position to be familiar with
documentary evidence about Willis’ secret work for the Browne campaign tells
Liberty that there is extensive evidence that the person within the Browne
campaign with whom Willis conspired to help Browne get the nomination in
contravention of LP rules was Browne himself. The source also said there is
extensive evidence that Willis continued to use the equipment and facilities
of the LP in his efforts on behalf of Browne.
July 15, 2001: Cloud and Lark have a conversation, in which Cloud refuses to
discuss the matter, but volunteers some ‘colorful’ comments about people who
earlier suspected that Willis had indeed continued to work for the Browne
campaign, contrary to both his promise and the terms of his contract with
July 17, 2001: Famularo responds to Lark’s e-mail of July 5, advising him
that Lark’s ‘reply was not responsive to my request for clarification.’ He
assures Lark that he is ‘willing to testify’ and ‘be subject to cross
examination,’ but he is concerned about how his testimony ‘will be published
and whether I will have an opportunity to rebut any characterizations on the
record within the same publications.’ He goes on to say that the article in
the July LP News included inaccuracies about him and an ‘open question about
my actions for which I was given no chance to correct or comment upon before
publication.’ He states that he simply wants to know what the rules will be
before he provides further evidence or testifies. He also opines that he
believes that ‘the îproblem’ as I see it is not the fraud, malfeasance,
misfeasance and/or nonfeasance of one or more individuals but whether the LP
as an organization can effectively immunize itself from future
manifestations of this îproblem.’‘
July 19, 2001: Liberty goes to press with its September issue, which
includes this timeline, a report updating the story, and analyses of the
matter. As of this date, no one within the Browne campaign has responded to
Lark’s questions about whether they were involved in the Browne-Willis
conspiracy, except Browne himself who said only that he would not cooperate
with the investigation. None of those involved has said anything in public
on the subject since May 15, except for Michael Cloud who has denounced the
investigation and the individuals who want to know more about Willis’
****August 16, 2001: LP Chair Jim Lark e-mails members of the party's
National Committee summarizing what he had discovered in his attempt to
investigate. he includes copies of written messages sent and received and
summaries of telephone conversations he had with potential witnesses. He
reports those within the Browne campaign who continue not to respond to his
questions. Many other individuals, he reports, responded to his call for
information, and while much of what they said or wrote was helpful in that
it provided feel for what was going on within the National Committee and at
the LP national office at the time Willis was doing his secret work for
Browne in violation of his contract with the LP, none of it was directly
****August 17, 2001: Long-time LP activist and petition contractor issues a
statement to Chairman Lark, in which he reports that shortly before the 1996
convention, he visited party headquarters and was surprised to discover that
many staffers were wearing "Dasbach" buttons, indicating their support for
Dasbach's re-election. He also says he was subsequently told that "when
Dasbach arrived, he instructed those wearing the buttons to remove them."
Dasbach does not recall the episode, but says it may have happened.
****August 19, 2001: John Famularo, who provided the evidence that prompted
Willis’ confession, responds to Lark's request for information about how he
obtained the evidence. He explains that, contrary to the accusations of
Browne staffers, he acquired the information in the course of his duties as
the person charged with maintenance of the LP headquarters’ computers. He
was routinely sent backup files of its computers so that when the computers
failed, he could restore the data. He discovered the incriminating files ‘in
the process of deleting files from the backup network system some time in
His also responds to Lark's request for additional evidence be referring
Lark to a Web site (http://lp200.com/BCI/timeline.htm) providing a timeline
of events he considered to be relevant to the case, with links to original
documents, including 29 documents apparently recovered from Willis’
Several documents demonstrate that Browne himself was working with Willis,
so obviously he was aware of Willis’ work for his campaign in violation both
of LP rules and his contract, as Liberty reported last month. Others show
that Campaign Chair (and national committee member) Sharon Ayres, former LP
Chair David Bergland, and consultants Jack Dean and Michael Cloud were also
party to Willis’ actions.
There is no evidence indicating that Steve Dasbach was party to the
Willis-Browne conspiracy, though there is evidence suggesting his
relationship with Willis and the Browne campaign was uncomfortably close. In
a letter dated July 19, 1995, Willis advises Dasbach about how Dasbach can
protect Willis from mounting evidence that Willis had violated LP conflict
of interest rules that was getting into the hands of the national committee
In addition, there is an agenda for Willis dated June 19, 1995, that
strongly suggests that Willis worked on behalf of Browne during his normal
work day at LP headquarters, not ‘on his own time’ as has been suggested.
It also presents the first evidence that Willis showed favoritism to Browne
in his official capacity as national director prior to Browne’s nomination:
Famularo reports that in June 1996, Willis directed that Browne donors were
to be treated, for membership purposes, as if their donations had been made
to the LP itself, thereby inflating membership figures and Browne support
within the party. According to Famularo, Willis obtained approval by the
party’s executive committee, though it is unclear whether members were aware
of the significance of what they had approved.
August 25, 2001: The Libertarian National Committee will meet in Las Vegas.
One item on its agenda is the Browne-Willis conspiracy.